Innovation is a very loose term, often thrown about as a solution to a business’ need for growth, or as a description about people or companies. Think Apple: they are definitely innovative – but how? What is it they do that makes them innovative? Are they any more innovative than Gillette with razor blades? Or Coca-Cola with their new personalised drink cans? Can you even compare innovation between businesses? If not, how can you be innovative in your business?
I have a simple mantra about what innovation is that helps to keep my team focused on how we are innovative:
Innovation is not a word.
Innovation is not a strategy.
Innovation is a culture - a culture of client understanding, a culture of market understanding, and a culture that drives you to create solutions with your customer as your partner. Innovative thinking changes the way a company works. Instead of designing and building monolithic products behind walls of requirements, it builds solutions collaboratively with customers. This enables:
- An understanding of the value the solution brings to the customer’s business
- An understanding of the wider market needs the solution addresses
- A way to go to market with customers not at them
The key take-out for a small customer-focused business like a real estate agency is the thinking around partnering or working collaboratively with your customers to create solutions to their needs. Starting first with your customers’ needs helps you determine what technologies you need, what processes you should employ and how you can structure your business for the disruptive changes that are happening. It also influences your behaviour and, through that, your culture.
For example, we are seeing demographic shifts in some parts of the country and particularly in some suburbs. As an agent, I am sure you have seen those ‘regeneration’ suburbs where a majority of sellers are retirees or older and a majority of buyers are couples and young families. Old, tired houses are being sold to young, energetic couples who promptly renovate.
How do you innovate in that market?
First, see your buying and selling customers as partners with whom you collaborate to meet their needs. This builds you a stronger brand and a bigger business. For example, a real estate agent I know has created a ‘renovation pack’ as both a glossy booklet and as an online site. In it are story boards of houses he has sold and their journey from “tired old 60s house” to “new, polished party pad”. It contains tips and tricks of renovations, before and after shots, and puts a lot of focus on the buyers of his houses and how they have maximised their investment.
He is being innovative as he has built the site in collaboration with buyers and highlighted them, and through this has a great asset now to use to convince new sellers to go with him, and to help new buyers visualise what they can do with tired houses.
Plus, he has the benefit of getting a few listings of newly renovated properties from buyers who like renovating and want to do it again!
The technology used is secondary to the innovation, which comes from the collaboration. A site that can meet his needs, and show how to produce the booklet that goes with it, are both technology choices. But these choices are made after the true innovation happened.
I see real estate agents as problem solvers. Making the deal often involves collaborative problem solving with many different parties, from buyers to sellers to mortgage brokers. Innovation is just taking those skills you already have and applying them more generally to all your deals consistently.